Television executives are turning a skeptical eye toward college football's plan to stage five major bowls -- the Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar and a yet-to-be-named national championship game -- in an eight-day span. But that doesn't mean they aren't lining up at the bargaining table for the rights to broadcast the expanded schedule of Bowl Championship Series games that's being contemplated, beginning in the 2006 season.
BCS commissioners met with CBS and Fox executives earlier this week in Chicago. ABC, which currently broadcasts the BCS bowls, may rejoin the talks even though its exclusive negotiating period came and went without a deal being struck.
At issue is how much value -- if any -- will be added to the broadcast rights for the BCS bowls once an additional game is added. The networks' concerns are two-fold:
* What the appeal -- i.e., ratings -- of a fifth bowl will be if it includes schools from outside the traditional power conferences (think Utah this season; Brigham Young and Tulane in years past) or if the Big East's football clout declines appreciably.
* More importantly, can they sell the additional advertising needed to support a fifth major bowl during the post-holiday lull?
"The particular time in which we're presenting these bowl games, after Christmas and until you get almost through January, is just not a very robust time in the advertising marketplace," Pacific 10 Commissioner Tom Hansen said. "The NFL is there with its playoffs, and a great amount of the available advertising dollars are devoted to the NFL."
Still, Hansen said Wednesday's meetings left him confident that the five-bowl format would find eager suitors.
"After yesterday, we feel more confident that our format is going to attract considerable interest in the marketplace," Hansen said. "At this point, we feel very good about where we are."
The decision to add a fifth BCS bowl was made last spring to appease football-playing schools from smaller conferences that had been excluded from big-money bowl games since the BCS was launched in 1998. Under threat of an antitrust suit, commissioners of the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and Southeastern conferences agreed to expand the number of schools getting BCS bids from eight to 10 by adding a fifth bowl. They added that the plan, however, depended on how TV rights fees would be affected when the next contracts were negotiated.
Under the format being pitched to broadcasters, the four major bowls would be played Jan. 1-4, as they are now. A fifth national-championship bowl involving the nation's No. 1 and 2 teams at the conclusion of the regular season would follow on Jan. 8 or 9. Naming rights for that bowl would be sold by the TV broadcaster.
Asked Thursday if there was any chance the BCS would abandon its plan to add a fifth bowl in light of broadcasters' concerns, BCS spokesman Bob Burda said: "That's the only model being discussed."